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Experts concerned over dominance of English in schools

Language teachers in Finland say they are concerned about the falling number of foreign languages offered in Finnish schools. Teachers say that more than nine out of ten children are choosing English as their first foreign language over other languages.

Melalahden koulun 6-luokkalaiset lukevat koulukirjaston kirjoja.
File photo of Finnish 6th graders. Image: Yle

According to Sanna Karppanen from the Federation of Foreign Language Teachers in Finland (SUKOL), the dominance of English, which over 90% of children study as their first foreign language, is driven by two reasons.

First, many municipalities are in financial distress and find themselves only being able to offer English instruction. Second, parents and children do not necessarily understand the importance of language skills.

"The general attitude among many Finns is that English is enough," says Jorma Kauppinen, director at the Finnish National Agency for Education.

"We need to change this," he adds.

"While it is true that you can get quite far with English, there is also need for other language skills, for example in working life," says Karppanen.

For Kauppinen it is a question of choice. "Twenty-thirty years ago, most schools in Finland offered a wide selection of languages for pupils to choose from."

"If there is no supply, there is also no demand," he says.

Bigger cities, bigger offering

There are also regional differences in language offerings. Schools in bigger cities, like those in the capital region, can offer multiple languages, but this is not the case in the rest of Finland, says Karppanen.

According to statistics from SUKOL, in 2012, Finnish was studied as the first foreign language by 5.3 percent of third-graders in 2012, followed by German (1.2%), Swedish (1%), French (0.9%) and Russian (0.3%).

Finnish students have to learn the other official language, besides their mother tongue, in school--meaning Finnish speakers learn Swedish and Finnish speakers learn Swedish, in addition to foreign languages.

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